Agüero misses chance of record as shaky City take time to ditch Donetsk
Argentinian misses penalty that would have made him club’s joint record scorer
Manchester City 2 Shakhtar Donetsk 0
For Sergio Agüero, it was a bittersweet evening. The most important detail is that his team won and have put themselves in a position of strength in their Champions League qualifying group. Yet this was also a night when the Argentinian squandered the opportunity to sugar-coat a slightly dishevelled performance by scoring the goal to establish himself as Manchester City club’s joint all-time record scorer.
The damage is only superficial and Agüero’s time to equal Eric Brook’s 177-goal record will inevitably come, perhaps even against Chelsea on Saturday. Yet City will have to hope his inability to score a 71st-minute penalty is not a sign of the anxiety that sometimes grips a player so close to a piece of history. As brilliant as he is, Agüero’s record from the penalty spot jars with the rest of his scoring achievements. This one was saved by Andriy Pyatov and City will just be glad Shakhtar Donestk, the better side in the opening half, had run out of puff by that stage, with an assortment of visiting players needing treatment for cramp.
Instead, the game was settled by the late goal from Raheem Sterling, a substitute, to go along with the latest piece of brilliance to add to Kevin De Bruyne’s already bulging portfolio. Agüero looked crestfallen when he was substituted late on, with his penalty being replayed on the giant screen, but it ended up being a splendid result for City. Donetsk were a fine team and ought to have been awarded a penalty for John Stones’s handball before Sterling turned in David Silva’s pass to soothe the crowd’s nerves.
Donetsk had beaten Napoli in their opening Group F encounter and there were times when Guardiola must have been startled by the way City’s opponents passed the ball more stylishly than the home side.
It is not often that a team visit the Etihad Stadium and attempt to out-pass City but Donetsk’s Brazilian contingent, with four of their front five originating from South America, elegantly set about showing all those soft-touch qualities. It needed a fine saving tackle from Fernandinho, one of City’s own Brazilians, to stop Fred after he had run clear early on and, after that, there were plenty of occasions when Taison, Fred, Bernard and Marlos showed the familiar Brazilian traits of quick, incisive, football. Ismaily, the team’s left back, was another who caught the eye.
Fabian Delph, a midfielder by trade, was playing left back for City because of the knee injury that has meant Benjamin Mendy flying to Barcelona on Wednesday to ascertain whether he suffered ligament damage in the 5-0 win against Crystal Palace on Saturday. Yet it would be unfair to say Donetsk appeared to realise Delph might be vulnerable in his new role. Kyle Walker also found it difficult at times on the other side and Stones was hardly a sea of calm. Mendy was at the ground on crutches with his knee in a brace on Tuesday night.
Fernandinho, a player who rarely gets the acclaim he deserves, had a fine game and at least Ederson gives the team a greater air of assurance than Claudio Bravo, the goalkeeper he has supplanted. All the same, Ederson and Walker were lucky to get away with the moment in the first half when they left a dropping ball to one another and Ivan Ordets almost stole in.
City had been knocked out of their stride during the opening 45 minutes but even in a period where they were struggling to find any real fluency, with Silva and De Bruyne just about as subdued as they ever are, they could still have been ahead by the interval. De Bruyne and Leroy Sané both flashed shots wide after running through the inside-left channel.
Gabriel Jesus also set up Silva for an early chance but City’s lack of control could be summed up in the manager’s demeanour in the dugout. Guardiola is never very good at hiding his displeasure and, at times, he looked almost forlorn, running his fingers down his face as if bewildered by what he was seeing.
His body language changed three minutes into the second half and it was another demonstration of De Bruyne’s brilliance even on a night when he did not always exert his usual influence.
Marlos was the Donetsk player who put his team in trouble with a loose sideways pass. De Bruyne intercepted the ball and Silva carried the possession on before squaring the ball back to his team-mate. De Bruyne was just over 20 yards out, in a central position, and whipped a curling, powerfully struck shot past Pyatov in the Donetsk goal.
Agüero’s first shot of the night had been so far off target it actually went out for a throw-in. Ten minutes into the second half, however, the crowd held their breath as Silva clipped a lovely ball over the top for the Argentinian. Agüero struck his volleyed shot well enough but it went straight into Pyatov’s midriff and the chance to equal Eric Brook’s 78-year club record was passed up.
The penalty was an even better opportunity but, ultimately, it was still a satisfying evening for the Premier League’s early pace-setters.